To lots of folks, the mere suggestion that they think gender-biased, though often unconsciously, already sounds like personal criticism.
However, the reality and the truth are rather more complex. At any level of any organization, gender-biased thinking might occur, though often unconsciously.
This doesn’t just happen at the mid-management or office level. It occurs at all levels across organizations and this ‘multi-level’ discrimination is hurting businesses across the board by denying women the much-needed voice in the decision-making process.
Well, the fact of the matter is that most people are naturally somewhat biased. Even people that intend to be totally fair will have a hard time letting their brains remain completely impartial.
Cognitive bias happens in all our brains. It’s our mind’s way of automatically generating associations related to different concepts.
These are the mental shortcuts that help us process information more rapidly and they prevent our brains from getting overwhelmed with information details.
Instinctively, we tend to put people into categories and for doing that, we use criteria such as gender, age, skin color, accent, weight, education level, socioeconomic status, or sexuality.
When our brain absorbs and processes information, these categorizations save our brain lots of time which allows us to use it for other tasks.
Our predictive brain
Recent studies have shown that unconscious bias is often an extension of what is called our ‘predictive brain’ attempting to identify patterns, and this often happens in rather arbitrary groups of individuals, even when it is based on stereotypes or non-existing patterns.
Well, the fact of the matter is that, unfortunately, these processes can, and often will, affect our behavior in an undesirable way which, in turn, may even lead to actions that are not in our best interests in the first place.
If we, even unconsciously, categorize people, we might make assumptions that are not true. We might even, unintentionally, alienate colleagues in the workplace and in education, gender inequality is a major issue as well.
So one of the conclusions of the studies was that even if we consciously do not believe in stereotyping and stereotypes, our brain, by nature, has a tendency to do so and rely somewhat on stereotyping.
The studies have shown us, for example, that those people who we think are best suited and most qualified for a professional position, simply often are not. It’s often just that we like them, as a person, more than another candidate. Weird, isn’t it?
Unconscious gender bias
When it comes to recruitment, unconscious gender bias often results in serious issues because the potentially best candidate is so often ignored. And it goes further.
Unconscious gender bias may actually cost organizations millions or even billions of dollars due to the fact that they fail to attract or retain the best candidates and reputational damage.
When a company fails to attract diverse candidates and has low female representation, especially at the managerial level, the damage will be significant. There’s so much evidence that higher female board members will result in a far more profitable organization overall.
Our western society is so full of negative associations and connotations when it comes to women and their roles in businesses and the economy.
Fortunately, today, more and more women who missed out on educational opportunities at a younger age can follow online programs to, for example, earn a GED (see also this Onsego review page) and work toward a professional career and live fully up to their capacities.
Stereotypes and representation
Fortunately, over the past few years, we have seen huge gains in female representation. But there still are unreasonable biases, for example, that women are so much more “emotional” than males.
Apart from that “emotion” could well be perceived as a quality trait, in the corporate world it often means that women will be excluded from decision-making positions across organizations.
These prejudices and biases not only affect women at starting positions across industries, they still are affecting women on every level of the corporate hierarchy.
The fact of the matter is that often, pregnant women are faced with workplace attrition. Many of them even leave prestigious middle or upper management roles as they can’t (or don’t want to) deal with the societal stigmas and pressure.
Many expectant women even reported that they were denied bonuses or job promotions as a result of their pregnancies. Even today, many employers still believe that pregnant women are “less committed…”
When we examine unconscious gender bias, wouldn’t it be useful and wise to adopt and apply an intersectional approach?
Are we all aware that women of different, often marginalized identities, for example, women of color, women with disabilities, and/or LGBT+ women, are discriminated against more?
How to fight unconscious gender bias
Fortunately, there’s so much we can do to fight unconscious gender bias. The first and most important step is to be aware that unconscious bias really exists and that all of us have preconceptions about people.
If we want to overcome the unconscious gender biases that are built into our brains, what we need to do is question our decisions and beliefs, even when we think they are “feeling” right. And bias, unconscious or not, exists everywhere, from the workplace to education or sports.
When asking people to justify, explain, or clarify their decisions or choices, they usually come up with an explanation. But often, that’s not the full truth. We are all trained or conditioned, to rationalize our decisions though they were actually made by our subconsciousness without the necessary logical input. It all starts with awareness, wouldn’t you agree?